A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW
Jacksonville’s Alhambra Theatre revives one of the most popular shows it has ever done with the staging of “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?” This musical about eight Catholic school students in the 1950’s debuted in 1979 and is based on an earlier novel by John Powers; he subsequently wrote the book for the play, while James Quinn and Alaric Jans added music and lyrics. The Alhambra’s production opened on September 12 and runs through October 11, 2018.
At times, we are asked if those of other faiths can enjoy this show: our response is “Yes!” and is based on the block-buster success of multiple plays and films that include Catholic settings and characters, such as “Nunsence,” “The Sound of Music,” “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You,” “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” “Boys Town,” and “Sister Act.”
The story relates the educational and coming-of-age experiences of Eddie (Rodney Holmes), Becky (Annabelle Fox), and their friends who live in Chicago’s Southside, where they are attending a traditional Catholic school. The time frame begins with the students entering second grade, and progresses through their senior prom. The audience experiences many firsts in their lives, including first confessions and first sex education lessons, We see the confused Eddie and the chubby Becky become a handsome young man and a beautiful young woman; two childhood friends who fall in love only to become best friends going their separate ways afterward.
Three delightful nuns are the hilarious teachers of eight students. Sister Monica (Stephanie Riner), Sister Helen (Jennifer Medure), and Sister Lee (Patti Eyler) sing a little, dance a little, and even roller skate a little as they lead the kids through the growing pains of childhood and adolescence.
Eddie and his pals Felix, Mike, and Louie (Jake Delaney, Joey Swift and Douglas Waterbury-Tieman) are a clowning school-uniformed crew of four. The objects of their blossoming affections and hormones are Becky and her friends Mary, Nancy, and Virginia (Molly Anne Ross, Victoria Elizabeth, and Lindsay Nantz). Watching the transformation of the girls from timid elementary students to boy-friend hungry teenagers is a delight!
Director Booth has added one additional nun to the production: Anthony Felton, a well-known local musical director appears as Sister Mary Upright, who provides musical accompaniment on the piano.
Alhambra veteran Stephen Kane appears as Father O’Reilly, who maintains discipline and bounces books over the heads of the students as he explains about hell’s everlasting fires. He is especially hilarious when he combines hearing confessions with a bit of soft shoe.
The music, which includes such intriguing titles as “Little Fat Girls,” “Cookie Cutters,” “Mad Bombers,” and “How Far is Too Far” is well sung by this talented cast. Be prepared to love their rendition of “Doo-Wah, Doo Wee.” And “Thank God,” the final song done by the entire company will confirm your belief in things warm and beautiful.
As is usual for a show produced and directed by Tod Booth, you are going to hear some wonderful voices. The leading roles by Mr. Holmes and Ms. Fox were especially well done. The choreography by Shain Stroff was fun to watch, and probably more difficult than it looked for the adult actors portraying kids. Scenic Designers Dave Dionne and Ian Black created some delightful backdrops that reminded us of our own school days, and the roll-around desks were especially fun. The costumes by the Costume Crew were on the mark, with habits for the nuns, school uniforms, and the shockingly oversized black patent leather shoes worn in one of the funniest numbers in the show. It was obvious that the cast was having a lot of fun doing the show.
Additional Production Staff included Cathy Murphy Giddens (Musical Director), Shain Stroff (Stage Manager), Lindsay Nantz (Dance Captain), Daniel Dungan (Lighting Designer), Linnay Bennett (Sound Designer), Patti Eyler (Properties), Luke Holt (Stage Crew), Pierre Tannous (Assistant Stage Manager), and Olivia Chernyshev (Wardrobe Supervisor).
Don’t miss this show; it is one of the funniest of the year. The Alhambra Theatre & Dining is located at 12000 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida, and has free parking. Visit alhambrajax.com or call 904-641-1212 for reservations.